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May 29, 2017

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Trump's 'America First' could affect Taiwan's exports: MOEA

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" approach is likely to affect Taiwan's export performance, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said Saturday in response to the U.S. president's inauguration speech a day earlier.

Economists, meanwhile, urged the Taiwan government to come up with measures to counter the possible impact of an administration under Trump, who has been strongly leaning toward trade protectionism, as the United States is one of the largest buyers of Taiwan-made goods.

Lin Li-chen (林麗貞), director of the MOEA's Department of Statistics, appeared cautious about the trade policy of the U.S. in the future after Trump pushed the theme of "America First" in his inaugural address.

"For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry," Trump said in his speech, "…We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams."

"Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families," Trump added. "We will get our people off of welfare and back to work -- rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American."

Lin said that although Trump needs some time to push for his new trade policy, which is expected to give local exporters a buffer against upcoming U.S. protectionism, Taiwan cannot afford to ignore the possible changes in business ties between the U.S. and China, where Taiwanese firms have built up broad protection sites to penetrate the U.S. market.

Among the prominent Taiwanese manufacturers who roll out products in China for export to the U.S. market, is Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (鴻海), the world's largest electronics maker, which assembles iPhones and iPads for Apple Inc.

In 2016, Taiwan's export orders fell 1.6 percent from a year earlier as a rebound in global demand in the second half of the year failed to reverse the downturn seen in the first half. It was the second consecutive year that Taiwan posted a year-on-year decline in export orders.

While she has expressed cautious optimism for Taiwan's export orders for 2017 after two years of decline, Lin said that Taiwan should watch closely how Trump lays out his economic policies, which could create uncertainty over Taiwan's outbound sales.

After Trump's inauguration, the White House announced a withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact championed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Taiwan has been keen to join the TPP trade bloc, but Gordon Sun (孫明德), director of the Economic Forecasting Center under the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (TIER), said that things have changed, and that Taiwan should seek a new approach in an era without the TPP.

Sun said that Taiwan has been pushing for its "New Southbound Policy," so it is necessary for the country to seek how to build up a link between this policy and its trade ties with the U.S. under the Trump administration.

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